The summer of 2020 was supposed to be headlined by blockbusters like Tenet and Top Gun 2. The crown jewel of the pre-COVID box office was Wonder Woman 1984, a film that was likely to top the year’s earnings. After a summer of delayed release, the next edition of the Diana Prince saga finally drops on Christmas as the centerpiece of a new slate of movies.
Gal Gadot returns as the Amazonian princess in Wonder Woman 1984. Her character now resides in Washington, D.C. and is working for the Smithsonian Institute. In addition to being surrounded by historical artifacts, Diana Prince is immersed in staples of the decade like malls and commercial excess. Also resuming his role as love interest Steve Trevor is Chris Pine, who joins Diana in opposing Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig’s supervillains.
The antagonists (as should be expected in any superhero movie worth its salt) are the best part of the film. The SNL veteran is cast perfectly as the awkward nerd who gains Olympian power as the mythical Cheetah. Her character is initially similar to her comely scientist of Ghostbusters, but later evolves into a villain corrupted by power. Wiig is a total revelation as she acts both extremes of her story well. She sells the twin nature of her character with conviction and makes the film work.
Pascal similarly embodies the charismatic Gordon Gekko-like scam artist Max Lord. His character is known for selling greed through a pyramid scheme. Lord’s omnipresent celebrity assumes the powers of an ancient stone and transforms his salesmanship into a power that threatens world peace.
Their combined villainy and new age technology improve on the first Wonder Woman. The backdrop of the Cold War and an iconic period of American commercialism mesh well with the story’s direction. The “greed is good” era fits with the en masse entrapment of people wishing for things without consequence.
Instead of being a random period piece like the initial film, Wonder Woman 1984 is constructed around a better story with lasting plot points. This makes the sequel less pedestrian than its predecessor and the flick is an improved standalone product. Despite a few plot holes and questionable CGI choices, none of these quibbles are setbacks in the overall film. Director Patty Jenkins deserves plaudits for guiding a more layered story that goes beyond action leading to action.
Jenkins’ latest is set for release on Christmas Day. It is the guinea pig for Warner Brothers pairing its release in both theaters and HBOMax. The film is the first major release in the industry-altering decision, which ironically also may embody short term desires with costly consequences.
With this in mind, families wary of venturing to the theaters this holiday season are safe to bet on this film as a streaming choice. By surrounding memorable villains with solid leads and an appropriate backdrop, Patty Jenkins improves her story for a more polished effort. Wonder Woman 1984, Kristen Wiig, and Pedro Pascal are worth the wait.
About the Author: John Saeger is a music and film writer from Philadelphia. He is also the co-host of the Philly sports podcast The Boo Birds. Prior to The Globe, he wrote the pop-culture blog Long After Dark, a site dedicated to the arts in the City of Brotherly Love and beyond. Email/Twitter